The 1984-85 campaign concluded with Villanova winning its first championship in program history. For the Wildcats to cut down the nets for the first time in 31 seasons, head coach Jay Wright's group will need to overcome a juggernaut in North Carolina.
The first step to succeeding? Outrebound one of the most physical teams in the country.
The Tar Heels rank No. 10 in Division I in rebounding margin with a plus-8.5 on the glass. Additionally, they place No. 7 in the nation in offensive rebounds per game, compiling 14.2 per contest. Head coach Roy Williams' bunch displayed its dominance against Syracuse by outrebounding the Orange 43-31, including 16 offensive rebounds.
Although North Carolina shot 0-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half, Brice Johnson and company tallied plenty of second-chance opportunities, converting them into easy buckets. The Tar Heels governed the paint all night, holding a 50-32 edge down low. The 6-foot-10 Johnson was a catalyst in this effort, picking up 16 points and nine rebounds. Yet, another forward snatched the spotlight from the senior.
Kennedy Meeks, who only averages 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, gathered 15 points and eight rebounds versus Syracuse. Meeks posted a similar stat line in the Sweet Sixteen with 15 points and nine rebounds against Indiana. If the junior carries his newly developed confidence in tonight's matchup, viewers might catch a glimpse of Villanova players' sweat through the camera lens.
If Williams' frontcourt dazzled, then the Wildcats hypnotized their fan base into a state of astonishment. Against Oklahoma, Wright's crew delivered the largest margin of victory in Final Four history with its 95-51 win. Villanova's stifling defense held the Sooners to 31.7 percent shooting, including a 4-of-12 shooting performance from Buddy Hield, the Naismith Player of the Year.
One area failed to favor 'Nova, though. While the Wildcats outrebounded the Sooners 32-29, along with a 25-10 advantage on the defensive end, Oklahoma picked up 19 offensive rebounds. In the event that North Carolina plucks that many offensive rebounds out of mid-air in the title game, 'Nova won't survive the first half.
Hence, gang rebounding is vital for the Wildcats, as well as the ability to depend on Daniel Ochefu. The 6-foot-11, 245-pound senior averages a team-high 7.6 rebounds per game. In the tournament, Ochefu has stayed out of foul trouble and must keep that trend up.
Besides him, Villanova's roster contains two role players above 6-foot-6 in Mikal Bridges (6-foot-7) and Darryl Reynolds (6-foot-8). Neither have proven to be ultra-effective on the glass this season, though, combining for four rebounds against Oklahoma. North Carolina's rotation contains five forwards at or above 6-foot-8, proving that the Tar Heels possess the matchup advantage on paper.
However, versus Oklahoma, 6-foot-6 Kris Jenkins and 6-foot-5 Josh Hart rose to the occasion, producing eight rebounds apiece. Hart has exhibited the strength to consistently sweep up on the boards, averaging 6.7 rebounds per game, but Jenkins is a late bloomer, averaging just 3.9 rebounds per contest. Nonetheless, Jenkins boasts seven rebounds per game over the last three matchups.
The Wildcats only clasp a plus-1.9 rebounding margin this season. Lack of size hasn't appeared as an issue during the Big Dance, but North Carolina represents a mammoth on steroids on the glass.
For Villanova to hoist the Wooden NCAA National Championship trophy tonight, Wright ought to demand maximum effort in the rebounding department. If the Wildcats disappoint, the Tar Heels will award Williams with another opportunity to dab.